The Brethren of the Coast

Vignettes of buccaneer life

This comic-strip-style engraving shows the life of the Brethren of the coast

The origin of buccaneering is so well-know that, for pirate fans at least, it barely needs repeating. But briefly … when the gilded Aztec and Inca empires lured the Spanish away from Hispaniola, their abandoned hogs and cattle ran wild and bred huge herds of feral beasts. This in turn attracted (mostly French) hunters, who dried and smoked the meat on barbeque-like fires called boucans. The hunters became known as “boucaniers,” which in turn became corrupted to buccaneer. When the Spanish exterminated the game on which they relied, the buccaneers turned to piracy.

However, the buccaneers had another moniker: the Brethren of the Coast. Under this title, they made common cause against the Spanish. Or did they?

Jan Rogozinski doesn’t think so. In his interesting dictionary of piracy he describes the name as fictional. He says it was invented by modern writers, and claims the buccaneers themselves never used “this picturesque phrase.”

Most other authors don’t seem to question the name, though they may disagree about when it was first used. In his Time-Life book The Spanish Main, Peter Wood dates the term to 1640. JM von Archenholtz’s The History of the Pirates, Free-Booters or Buccaneers of America uses it, at least in the 1807 English translation. Voltaire called them “brothers of the coast” in 1763.

Is Rogozinski right? Was the term ever in use among the buccaneers? It would be interesting to know.


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